Category Archives: Singers

Todd Suttles Movie Sighting: The Second Chance

Recently, I re-watched a small Christian movie called The Second Chance (2006), directed by Steve Taylor and starring Michael W. Smith as a yuppie music pastor who spends some time serving in an inner-city church. Naturally, the film uses Smith’s musical talents for more than one set piece. Guess who I spotted in the choir on a couple of them? Todd Suttles, now singing baritone/bass for the Gaither Vocal Band. Here’s my favorite number, “Follow Me.” Michael’s character has wandered into a church choir practice, and the lady director enthusiastically encourages him to sit down and play something with them. You can see Todd in the orange shirt on the far right. He has a step-out around 2:10.

You might be wondering if the movie itself is any good, and the answer is that parts of it are very good, but it’s a mixed bag. Michael W. does a surprisingly good acting job, and the black pastor he works with is even more impressive. The writers are clearly very familiar with inner city church ministry in Nashville and fill the story with memorable small moments and characters. A subplot involving a pregnant prostitute is particularly sad and powerful. My main problem with the film is its excessive wallowing in white guilt. Granted, it could have been even worse, and it tries to present an equal array of black and white antagonists (including a corrupt black city official and a cruel black gangster). It also acknowledges that the black pastor is prideful and cynical, and he needs to give Michael W.’s wide-eyed character a fair chance. But in my opinion, it doesn’t come down hard enough on some of his spewing, and the closing scene has him getting choked up at a Malcolm X quote. Yes, both pastors are presented as having lessons to learn, but it seems like in the end, the white guy has learned more.

Then again, it seemed pretty mild compared to what I found when I looked up the actor who plays the black pastor, Jeff Obafemi Carr. The guy is a total nutcase. He’s a black liberation activist with his own cult down in Nashville that, if I have this right, combines Pentecostalism with African tribal paganism with Freemasonry. Nope, not making this up. But hey, he can act. Soooo, ANYway. Enjoy the music!

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Doug Anderson’s Farewell Party

Dustin Doyle just made his live debut as Signature Sound’s new baritone singer the other day. He sang “Redemption Draweth Nigh,” the song he picked for his audition. Meanwhile, I just discovered some great up close and personal videos of Doug Anderson and the guys from about a month ago. They’re from a retreat session in Shipshewana, Indiana, and since Indiana is Doug’s home state, some old friends of his came up to show their appreciation. So the retreat kind of doubled as a going-away party for him, and it just looks like a sweet time all round. A user named Joyce Williams has uploaded several of these videos (about 15-20 minutes long each), full of funny stories, heart-to-heart reflections from both Doug and Ernie, and some performances by request. I’ll point readers to her channel for all of them but embed a couple that I found especially fun.

In the first half of this one, Ernie Haase shares his top ten moments with Doug on the road. I’d never heard any of these stories before, but oh my, these are some good ones. Some are funny, others are embarrassing (and funny), some are touching, and one of them is a little bit scary (it involves going jogging in a spot in Israel where you do NOT want to go jogging). Ernie really bares his soul in a couple of these moments, particularly the last one:

And the number one top ten moment for me, ever, was you reaching across the aisle late one night, giving me a fist bump, telling me everything was going to be all right, when this group was going to hell pretty quick. And for staying and being my best friend, and helping me get this group off the ground.

The second half is some other stuff, but that was the part that really got me.

And here’s Doug singing an old sugar stick of his: “Gone.” If you watched the first video, you know they’re laughing at the beginning because they’re thinking about the fact that Ernie specially requested Doug sing this, and the hook reminded everyone that Doug was going away. (But that was nothing compared to Ernie setting up “Forgiven Again” by saying Doug was going to spend more time with his family, and then Doug singing the first line of that song: “I left my family, the love I had known…”)

Here’s an impromptu group performance of “All the Gold in California.” Never heard them try this one before!

One friend of Doug’s who shared some words also happens to know Bill Gaither. According to him, Bill once said in a conversation about Doug, “I can’t believe I let him get away!” So congrats, Ernie. You one-upped Bill for thirteen years!

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From the Vault: The Booth Brothers, “Buy Me a Rose”

This latest upload from the Booth Brothers’ Live in Lakeland project is a one-off, completely unplugged cover of the Kenny Rogers hit “Buy Me a Rose,” penned by Jim Funk and Erik Hickenlooper (boy, what a mouthful!) You’ll notice the run-time on this one is a bit longer than usual, and that’s because I’ve included Michael’s moving words at the end on marriage and divorce. In an incredibly sweet moment, he walks down into the audience at the end of the song to present his wife Vicki with a rose, then they stand together while he offers some reflections.

Since this concert, Michael has opened up more about his wife’s difficult childhood past and how they’ve sought counseling at various points in their marriage. But even here, he’s honest about their struggles. “We found out it was more than 50/50. It’s 100% without really expecting much in return. And that’s when things really seem to work out the best.” Sadly, Christian couples and even southern gospel couples aren’t always spared the pain of divorce, and Michael specifically recognizes that. In a room that size, he says there are bound to be couples who are hurting. At the same time, he expresses his conviction that when both parties in the marriage are committed to Christ and each other, it will be able to weather the storm. The tragedy is that so often it is only one spouse or the other who actually wants to keep on trying. (I confess that I have less sympathy for so-called “mutual divorces,” where the husband and wife jointly throw in the towel).

This performance is yet another home run for the group and one I vote they resurrect in concert as long as Ronnie is lugging around that guitar of his. I don’t throw away compliments, and I can confidently say this version blows the original out of the water. Vocally, I don’t think I’ve heard Michael better, both technically and emotionally. Kudos to Ronnie and Jim for their spot-on BGVs too.

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From the Vault: The Booth Brothers, “Home Where I Belong”

It gives me great pleasure to brighten Youtube with the (in my opinion) definitive cover of this B. J. Thomas classic. The Brothers don’t seem to have a studio recording of it, which is interesting since they obviously cut a studio track for themselves to use on this performance.

This arrangement hews fairly closely to the Gaither Vocal Band’s interpretation, but the Booths’ harmonies are just unbeatable on this. I would also rate it as one of Ronnie Booth’s best lead vocals. I’ve often thought that in a different era, Ronnie could have had a great solo career in country music. Truly one of the most naturally gifted vocalists I’ve ever heard.

I’m not sure who the gentleman in freeze frame is at around 2:43 (presumably an acquaintance of the group who had passed).

If you’ve enjoyed this, keep coming back for more gems from the vault!

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Coming Soon: Vintage Booth Brothers Music

I’ve obtained permission from Michael Booth to post some vintage Booth Brothers music that’s no longer available at any retail outlets. This includes two DVD projects that I was sad to see the Brothers pull from the store, since I think they represent some of the group’s best work with Jim Brady. Over the next week, I will be adding some video performances you may never have seen unless you snapped up a copy of one of the DVDs when you had the chance.

Other Youtubers have posted a few highlights, but some of the very best (in my opinion) haven’t seen the light of the day. What’s especially neat about the project Live in Lakeland is that it includes bonus material that was cut from the accompanying CD. So while you fortunately CAN still buy a digital download of the audio project from the Brothers’ own store (and I recommend that you do), you won’t hear some of these performances at all except on the video.

I have only uploaded one video so far, but it’s a goodie: “Just Beyond the River Jordan,” featuring Jim Brady and co-written by him and his wife. Stay tuned for more treasures from the vault!

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Doug Anderson Leaves Signature Sound

Well, this was going to be a busy week for me, so I worried about finding time to fill it with content for y’all. Turns out, this announcement will be enough for a whole week: Signature Sound has just released a press video breaking the news that charter member Doug Anderson is leaving to pursue a solo career. His last concerts with the group will be June 19th and 20th.

This is clearly Doug’s decision, with the more flexible schedule cited as a major factor. In the video, Doug explains that as his girls grow up, he wants to be a bigger part of their lives and have more control over when he can be off the road. This has motivated many a quartet man to step down, and with Doug’s popularity, it’s probably not a bad economic decision either. He also says jokingly that he hopes to “hop back on the bus” with Signature Sound at any time, and Ernie assures him that the corner bunk is always his. Ernie is clearly trying not to sound too bummed about the whole thing, but obviously he’s happy for Doug to pursue what’s best for him. Doug has been Ernie’s right-hand man and the glue of the group for about 13 years now, and it must be tough to see him go.

There are so many things I could say about how Doug’s voice and personality will be missed as a part of the Signature Sound unit. As I try to think about favorite performances, I realize there are so many that it’s hard to know where to start. He could own ballads as completely as up-tempo numbers, gritty soul as well as tender story songs. Very few singers command that kind of versatility.

It’s a testament to Doug’s talent that I’m going to reach all the way back to the beginning of his career for two favorite moments to showcase. One is the group’s old version of “Happy Rhythm,” which features one of my favorite Doug improvisations ever on the encore. The other, from that same concert, is his take on the standard on “Had It Not Been,” of which I have yet to hear a better version.

Heartiest best wishes to Doug for a blessed future and a fruitful career. Now, let the speculation about his replacement begin! Who do my readers favor? Personally, I think Andrew Goldman wouldn’t be a bad bet. He’s the only young singer I can think of who holds the potential to fill Doug’s shoes.

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Harmony Master Class: Simon & Garfunkel and Andy Williams

A harmony master class, as I will define it, is a preferably live exhibition of exceptionally good harmony singing. It can be from any genre, as long as it’s aesthetically pleasing. For my first installment, I’ve chosen Simon & Garfunkel’s collaborative guest appearance on the Andy Williams show. Williams often invited and sang with popular groups of his day (including other folk revivalist bands like Peter, Paul & Mary). Although Williams’s voice is heavier than Simon or Garfunkel’s, it’s remarkable how smoothly he blends in his tones with theirs. In the little intro clip, he recalls that he didn’t find it difficult to find his part, because he grew up practicing harmony singing with his brothers.

The piece is the legendary “Scarborough Fair,” here presented with the rarely heard, Simon-penned counterpoint tune “Canticle.” As you might be able to tell, the lyrics are rather flaky and anti-war (you can follow along here), but then that’s only to be expected. However, if you concentrate on the music, it’s quite exquisitely woven together with the folk song.

It might look a bit odd that Garfunkel appears to be staring very intently at Williams as they sit in a circle around a single microphone, but this is a practical choice. As I can confirm from personal experience, eye contact is especially important in synchronizing close harmony when you haven’t sung extensively with your singing partners.

An interesting detail is the way Paul shows off his upper range around 2:48, harmonizing above Williams while Garfunkel sings the counterpoint, then dips back under him for the next line. As a duo, Simon and Garfunkel would often cross their parts so that you could only tell by careful listening who was singing what at a given moment. Williams puts it well when describing the elegant simplicity of their sound: “You became mesmerized by it, by just that lack of things going on.”

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Tony Jarman, “One Holy Lamb”

Tony is pictured here furthest to the right in this rare cover with his face on it.

Recently it was announced that tenor singer Tony Jarman was stepping down from the Down East Boys. In my humble opinion, Jarman has never gotten enough attention for his voice. To be honest, I prefer it to some other much better-known tenors. It’s pure, warm and well-rounded, and it reminds me of the lead singer for 4Him. One of my favorite performances of his is the Poet Voices’ “One Holy Lamb.” His face doesn’t appear on most album covers for this project (or even the Youtube thumbnail below), because he left shortly after it was recorded, but it’s his voice on this number. Milan Klipa is the tenor featured in their live performances, like this one, but he’s not as rangey or powerful. In fact, you can hear him balking and pulling away from the notes Tony nails in the studio version. While several singers have tackled this standard, Tony’s version will remain the definitive in my book:

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A Book a Week: Gloria Jean, A Little Bit of Heaven

Gloria Jean, A Little Bit of Heaven

As promised, here is my review of the biography of child singing star Gloria Jean, written by Scott and Jan MacGillivray. The sub-title is A Little Bit of Heaven. Presumably this was chosen because That Awkward Moment When I Caught a Skin Rash From Bing Crosby, Mel Torme Proposed, and Donald O’Connor Hugged Me So Hard He Broke My Ribs would’ve run a tad long.

Although this isn’t an autobiography, Gloria is generously quoted from interviews conducted by the authors, so her own voice still comes through clearly. And what a treat it is! Gloria Jean is one of those people you’re not likely to have heard of. She never attained the legendary status of a Shirley Temple, and most of her work is out of print. But once you get to know her, you’re very glad you did.

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New Series Announcement: A Book a Week

For the last stretch of the summer, I’ve decided to spend the time that might otherwise have been wasted sleeping in, arguing with atheists on the Internet, surfing the Internet, etc., on reading and reviewing one good new book per week. Happily, I just popped in on a lovely little used bookstore the other week and picked up several good ‘uns. So I thought I might let you, my readers, take a peek at what I’m reading for the next few weeks. But since it seems half the country is on vacation right now, I decided to wait until next Friday to publish the first installment. All the books in my queue so far are non-fiction, mostly revolving around entertainment history, or in one case, military history. The two sections were right next to each other at the bookstore. It’s a wonder I dragged myself out of that place at all!

My first entry in this new little series will actually not be a used book purchase, but something I recently purchased new. It’s the biography of a forgotten child singing star from the same era as Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin. Her name is Gloria Jean. This young lady was the original Jackie Evancho—a true prodigy. She was trained as a coloratura soprano from childhood on up and achieved worldwide fame through her facility with both classical and pop standards. Along the way, she rubbed shoulders with so many legendary show biz names it would make your head spin. And not just names only show biz buffs would recognize either. The book draws heavily from her own words and contains stories you won’t find anywhere else—funny stories, strange stories, and downright beautiful stories. It’s also a sober look at the less pleasant side of child stardom and show business in general, as the small-town girl rose to fame only to fall off the map again.

She has her own Youtube channel now and still interacts with fans via a website. Here she is introducing some vintage clips of her singing and acting, to whet your appetite and get you counting stars. Come back next Friday for the full review!

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